As a teenager volleyball was my favorite teacher. She was tough, but loving, caring, but not domineering. She was there when I needed her most for elation or stress relief. She taught me that passion cannot be measured by points, trophies, or a college scholarship, but by the person in which that passion creates.
I had only casually played with the boys volleyball team, the Central Spinners, in Thaba Tseka since I arrived in August, but I quickly learned they were lacking a committed coach and had the potential to be a highly talented competitive team. I offered my time as a coach and partnered with my friend and counterpart, Joseph, who coaches the youth basketball teams. Together, we began showing up every day and in just a week more and more boys, and girls, consistently came to practices. We have one gravel basketball court and volleyball court, and they were now full of people from 4pm to 7pm. We raised money to buy a few balls and training equipment and our team grew in strength, productivity, and numbers. It was gradually starting to become the best part of my week.
But every success story is not without a few bumps in the road. Before we got our hands on a few more balls I spent weeks searching for the key to the mysterious government office the “balls” were in. I sought help from the local government and found no success or assistance whatsoever. So.. where was the key!!!! My patience was put to the ultimate test when I sat quietly in an hot office in Maseru for four hours while people lazily (!!!) tried to figure out where the Thaba Tseka representative was. Turns out, she had moved to China (?!). During this time, the coaches from last year were arguing with each other and we were dealing with corruption regarding our tournament fees. Frustrated, I was ready to step down and focus my time on a different activity, but I kept showing up because the boys had asked me to. Realeboha, our setter, texted me one night, “Please don’t let all these problems make you not come. You have pushed me to believe in volleyball and in myself.” I knew from that moment on I would do my best to never let these boys down. It reminded me of something an older volunteer told me at the beginning of my service. “You may not always feel appreciated or accomplished, but by showing up every day you are doing more for your students than many other adults, or parents, here can do for these kids.”
The entire journey may have been an underlying metaphor for my experience in Lesotho. Where are the balls? Oh, there is no key? What, she moved to china? Yes, of course I have four hours to sit here. So we are stealing money now. Wait, but this is important..The boys need me here. I like doing this. In fact, I love doing this. Ok. Breathe.
At the end of February, right before I left for Europe, we played in a big tournament in Maseru. I walked into the Lehakoe gym and found multiple teams dressed in their jerseys, three from Botswana. There were lights above making the gym floor shine brightly. I day dreamed of diving and digging balls all over the courts and I immediately felt a sense of belonging. For many of the boys this was their first time seeing and playing against teams of this caliber. I expected disorganization, late starts, long days and not enough staff or equipment and yes, all of those things happened, but what also happened wasn’t short of two of my favorite days here so far. I was even recruited to play for the women’s national club team.
The first week I returned from vacation I saw one of our youngest players, Mafifi, a 6 foot high school student, leading practice and drills around cones. He radiating confidence and made a great leader. The other boys showed him respect and they completed the drills with ease.
This weekend we were invited for another tournament that was the beginning of a four month long league. The police have supported us immensely in contributing transport and other local support is continuing to grow in Thaba Tseka as we play harder and more consistently.
We placed 5th out of 11 teams at our tournament and the women's team I played with placed 1st!
The power of sports on an individual is not always measurable because for each person it is a different experience, but I am beginning to see some of the same things I saw in myself at their age, confidence, drive, humility, work ethic, leadership, and most importantly, passion. I am so proud of them.
Eh! One Soul! Eh! One Team! Eh! T Squared!